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Life - the world and people
Lyon, Foire, 14 June
Germans occupy Paris. What is it, I don't understand, are the bandits going to win. I do not understand how such powers as England and France so many people, so much wealth - could not achieve at least the same power as the German. What were they doing, what were they thinking all the time.
Paris occupied - what a depressing news. We are leaving on Monday. In 2 weeks time one will be enlisted, among those fighting. With what hope will we stand? It is tragic, although we must not think badly, but is it possible to think well?
19.40 hour. What an atmosphere! I worry that I have thrown my civil clothes out, who knows what may happen.
Saturday, 15 June
I thought today is Sunday, even quarrelled about it with my mates. Such is life now, that days are passing without leaving anything in the memory, so that one is losing the count of time. Yesterday the news of the fall of Paris depressed us so much, that we talked in despondent manner. Today's paper improved the atmosphere - beyond Paris a powerful resistance is forming. Hitler thought that the occupation of Paris means the occupation of the whole of France, he thought that the French will agree to the compromising conditions. That is why the German Army was moving so fast to Paris - in any case the city was tempting: so much wealth. Well, it happened otherways, we shall see what will happen next.
A situation similar to our September campaign recreates itself. We retreat, the Germans are pushing in the direction of the Swiss border, having orders to cut off the Maginot Line, and so they are not far from Lyon.
I have either a bad luck or a very good one. We arrived from the airport, were supposed to leave today, but suddenly we have to flee. We may be forgotten and wander aimlessly around with the others, who knows if and when I will get to a machine. But what one can do. The whole crowd of officers with suitcases came out today, to flee where is safe.
Looking at it all, one is filled with terror and anger. Almost a year they are sitting here and they only sit, taking a thousand francs. I do not understand such, a solution, where is the sense of it. They could sit here, but why those francs were not used for tanks or other military machines. No, this way we will not win the war; money are due only to those, who are going to fight. What were they thinking, and with what do they want to win the war. I did not despair completely yet, but when one looks soberly, there is nothing to give one hope. The French soldiers are not what they used to be, they were misled, lack of discipline destroyed their morale. Spread out like ... with our possessions, we are waiting. Soon the lorries should come and take us. We will go south. And what then? I ask.
14.30 hour. We are resting almost outside the city, we have made a good few kilometres in this heavy heat. I am already tired and who knows how far it is still to the loading station. What a fate for us, airmen.
The day came, the sun not yet opened its eyes. I rose, though such early rising is not my speciality. I am glad the night is over, because the night is a real penance. And it was already second one like this. In the freight car there is 42 of us, there is no possibility for all of us to lie on the floor. We have to sleep either sitting, or - like me, on a very narrow bench, where not only the back aches, but you have to hold fast all the time so as not to fall, because the moving car is badly shaking. We are all knocked about and very tired. Nobody knows when this journey into the unknown will end.
We are somewhere in the very south, near the sea. The irregular journey is most upsetting, we have passed some stations, should have stopped on them. We are hungry into the bargain, I do not know what is happening, apparently our government forgot to organise provisions for us. Yes, they have either fever or a revolution in their heads. France is being defeated, the tragic reality recreates itself. The French soldier failed completely, he does not want to fight. The German goes forward. The French army did not manage to stop them anywhere. Yesterday Marshal Petain, as a new Prime minister, asked Hitler for armistice and for the conditions for peace. I don't understand the nations are losing war with one German. Yes, nations, yes France, you forgot that there is a law of might, which gives a right of existence.
L'hopitalet, 20 June
We have spent here only one night, we cannot stay longer. The Germans are treading on our heels. Thus failed France. If anyone fights in the whole of France, it is only our soldier, and France and the whole world are admiring his heroism. France not only failed to do anything, she wasted our soldiers, did not use us all. Only now they appreciate us, when it is too late. Is all lost? No, We Poles will show what we are capable of - the initiative now comes into our hands.
We are loading ourselves. We are to retreat south. It will be a difficult journey, who knows whether some will not lose their life.
The Mediterranean Sea, enemy's submarines and airforce. The atmosphere (is) not full of despair, the retreat is not aimless, at least I don't think so. Some of us start to think about ourselves, what to do with ourselves. All my colleagues who were flying before suddenly found themselves here - this is well organised, I cannot complain. Ah France, you did not even know that you were threatened with downfall. Your nation grew weak, broke down, have no future. The Poles are getting better, they are hardening, getting stronger. No, the Poles will not perish, the future belongs to us.
Port St.Jean d.L. on the Atlantic Ocean 24 June
I am leaving the coast of France - 17.45 hour. We are sailing into the unknown - to the English. It is a turning point, a very important moment. Generally the last few days were very important and still will be. God, protect these poor people on the ocean. I have a serious trouble with my right hand, it hurts, especially in these conditions. Writing is a torture. I will describe everything later, God permitting. I am glad to be leaving France. She failed us so badly. I was repelled by them, since getting to know them I never liked them.
England Liverpool, 27 June
10.30 hour. An hour ago we have landed. Thank God, a way is opening again, there was an abyss before us, which God allowed us to avoid. My hand is getting better, but it is still far from the normal state.
Again I cannot care less about the Hun, here they really started to threaten him!
Sunday, 30 June
Big garden, something like a meadow. Old spreading trees, in places standing alone, in others forming bigger groups - groves. Among the trees are protruding yellowish tents, like pyramids. People are busy, animated, there is bustle and noise. As if it was a camp of some wild tribe, nearer as if it was a health resort. In fact there are ideal conditions for rest - the area is first class flora resort - beautiful and healthy. It is us, Poles, it is our camp in England, here are those, who managed to escape from under the hammer, who did not break down, who made a dangerous journey to seek justice and truth here, to fight still until victory. Here is our last hope. I believe (in it) more than at any other time, we all believe, although sometimes we feel pessimistic.
We are leaving, the camp is transported to another place. Such is our nomadic life, it looks as if we did not have a tangible purpose. It suits some of us, they hope we will be spared, like in France. Alright, but the question is, are we going to win the war. France spared us, but lost the war, the army disintegrated, was wasted.
What would have happened if the whole Polish armed forces were used in the theatre of war; there are grounds to suppose that the war would have been won. Hitler proclaims that he had to do only with Sikorski's "band". Who knows what would have happened if this band was in full strength. The Poles showed what they can do, the world admires our deeds, England treats us with full appreciation.
My hand is cured, thank God, but the still aching fingers do not function well yet. With the first opportunity I shall describe our tragic retreat.
The months are passing, maybe - God forbid! - the years will pass. When will it all end at last? No, we cannot comprehend the tragedy of our fate. It is better that we cannot, it would be terrible to comprehend it.
Crewe, the town and the railway station. Our camp was less than 20 km from that town. 12.00 hour. The train is taking us. The 3rd class equals our second. Comfortable, soft seats. All would be well if the English supplied us with bread. Since yesterday we are almost hungry. Butter and things like that we have enough, but they are no good without bread. We are travelling hungry, who knows when we will get bread. I worry seriously whether England is lacking in bread.
In truth I do not have a great desire to write, and yet, perhaps... The facts are worth remembering, perhaps, if God permits, it will be worth- while.
From the beginning. I can already say quite a lot about England. Rich country, well managed. One can see wealth accumulated through the centuries. Culture, original culture manifests itself here. Modesty, cleanliness, neatness - it is obvious they are important for the English. The land well used, the farms modest, but on a high standard. The average farmer has machines which do the work for him, I have seen very few examples of farmers working manually. Frugality is obvious. In the countryside one never sees any rich villas or other such buildings. Exclusively everywhere l-storied small houses of red bricks, very few are plastered in some other colour. The English love uniformity. Neither villages nor towns show any diversity - the towns big, old black (?) houses, multi-storied, made of stone. The land itself similar to ours. Similar fields, lots of trees. But here they do not form woods, the trees stand single as if planted, or in small groups, like There is lack of conifer trees. Many meadows, pastures, a lot The people are friendly, well behaved. They behave towards us as if they liked us very much - are smiling and greet us with "the thumb up" I have forgotten. The industrial centres are very big - the uniform, one-storied workers' houses form the whole small towns. Travelling, one sees these houses everywhere.
Yesterday at 16.00 hour we have alighted on a small station (I don't know its name, because on small stations there are never any signs). We marched about 4 km. In the place where we stay at the moment, we do not feel too badly. We live in decent barracks, inside like normal rooms, freshly painted, clean, all conveniences, bathrooms, toilets, first-class fittings, we are sleeping on spring beds, very comfortable. As a platoon commander I got a separate room, very pleasant. I am also a commander of our barrack - the 24th.
The only trouble - serious for some they do not feed us enough. A good nourishing meal is a great " luxury", but, well, there is little of it. In particular they are saving on bread. Our starved stomachs can not manage without bread. Well, never mind, in a few days the fats will equalize the hunger.
9.00 hour. After a very good breakfast one is stretching oneself on the bed. And what to think about? One is pretending to seek an occupation perhaps this? or perhaps that? No, neither this nor that. Just lying.
Ha! and thought, what can thought do, the home-sick thought, the thought does not allow to fill the time with any occupation - the soul leaves the immobile body on the bed and flies far, to the beloved land. Oh, my native land, my beloved country, what power do you have to attach your son so strongly to yourself. You, our country, are to us what air is to the bird, water to the fish or woods to animals. We are like plants which need only your soil, your air - anywhere else we wither.
July - Polesie* in July. Those fields, woods, those meadows. I am walking on a country road across the fields, the rows of corn swaying on both my sides - I turn into a narrow path to "Jawnice"**. The rye stands high, its ears strike my face. Ah, how pleasant, how delightful, like a bath. The rye is coming to an end, so is the path - meadow and alder-grove. I lie down on the grass, look at the sad alders. I remember, an oak grew here, a very big oak. Ha!, how many times I climbed it. It is gone now, people cut it, people, always people, everything through people. Oh, people!'
I walked like that, the corn struck my face, yes... now I am also walking, walking across the world. I am also stricken, but not by corn, by life, yes, by people - it is not a delightful bath - it is death. Yes, the world is changing, the nations are vanishing - that how it is.
Our nation is quite unbearable, I do not know whether anyone can satisfy us. There are constant complains, grumbles, but in fact there is no reason for them. Our living conditions are good, even comfortable, considering the present time. Just because they cannot completely fill, or over-fill their stomachs, they complain until they themselves and anyone who has to listen to them, loses equilibrium, and yet the food is very nourishing, I can say with certainty that they did not have such at home. They do not think what right they have to complain. I don't understand this, there was never anything best, which a Pole would not criticise, generally everyone is critical in principle, sometimes without any grounds.
The time has no pity on us - horizon is clouded, our hopes are weaker more and more we are becoming orphans. But somehow I trust the English,
* Polesie - eastern part of Poland. Today - in Belarussia (B.R.)
** "Jawnice" - probably a name of a village or a manor house (B.R.)
as our protectors, I think, they will not harm us. Sometimes we are discussing the question of our future, of free Poland. There is not much chance of our winning, only England is left who can repel the enemy's attack, but will she win the war and when... In our minds and on our lips is often Russia. Unfortunately, Russia is often our only hope. Unfortunately, because will there be Poland if Russia attacks the German? There are great doubts. "If only Russia..." repeats everyone - naturally, it is necessary to defeat the most dangerous enemy with whatever powers possible, and worry only afterwards.
How difficult is to realise that Poland might not rise. It's awful, worse than... Not to return, never to see again. Black life, longing, bitterness. And yet, one is slowly preparing oneself for such a life, although one does not yet accepts that Poland will not rise - does not believe. She must rise !
18.15 hour - after supper. Indignation, animation, they are all complaining that the English are not giving us enough bread. Strictly speaking it is true - they are giving us 2 slices, thinly cut by machine - it is obvious that we are hungry. Moreover today an Englishman brazenly snatched bread out of the hands of the three of us, because they took from the table more than was due to them. It was very unpleasant. Is that wealth and culture? shame. Are they really lacking in bread, are they such "misers"? The boys are thinking how to improve these meals, to avoid a revolt, and have some results. From our side we have no right to demand anything, but they, as our friends cannot starve people, especially those who are to fight for their cause, from whom they expect a lot - we are not Negroes for anyone yet - We don't have Poland, but we do have honour, our dignity - and anyway, what has happened was not just our fault.
The days are passing, monotonously, without an echo. Verification; an officer has to confirm person's identity; sorting out of pilots and their specialisations - over and over again it is repeated and not just today. They are promising again that we will begin our job, that it will be soon, but nobody really knows anything. Less advanced pilots are to sail to Canada, according to information I am to stay here, but would like to sail too - might as well go to the end of the world.
I keep having those differing moods - of nervousness, of uncertainty. Yes, nervousness, it is not surprising, whose nerves could stand all this without damage - and mine seem to be specially sensitive. I have been to see a captain - gave him details about my specialisation.
Qualifications - bomber pilot, needing some instruction. Is it really what it looks like? It looks as if something was starting. About time too.
17.30 hour. The sun is shining, the curling clouds hung in the sky there is a small breeze, the grass is swaying and the trees rustle. The world is still the same, but the people? Sometimes I think that I am not capable of living any more.
Willy nilly we have to cram English. I admire the willingness of some of us towards it. Others are not willing and I belong to those, but not to the worst ones. Nevertheless I will manage it somehow, there is a lot of words similar to the German ones, which are not quite foreign to me.
Sunday, a free day. Although there is in fact no real occupation, such is the nature of man, that he greets a free day with pleasure.
16.30 hour. I am spending the whole afternoon on a bed - there is nothing to do. I slept a little, but really I can never sleep well during the day. I just lie down and think. What about? it is obvious: about Poland. If only she could rise, if one could return (this is the only reason for living). In my thoughts I am again in Torun or in Dawidgrodek, I see the town, my friends, I relive those moments like in a dream. Those thoughts absorb my whole attention, at times I am not conscious of the fact that I am so far from my country, I think that I normally lie on the settee in my room and dream about lovely Ursula or Marychna. But time is doing its job, those memories are more and more misted over, become like a dream.
We believe strongly in the rise of independent Poland, we believe and nothing will take away our belief, not any tragedy. We believe that we will return there, to our dearest ones. We believe also that nothing will break us, because God is with us.
I promised to describe our historic retreat. I am doing it, it would be a pity to pass over such a thing.
We started from Lyon, because the Germans irresistibly went this way. In closed formation we left the city. The people looked at us, frightened, the women wept - they were sorry for us, we have won their trust.
They loaded us into goods train, 60 people to a carriage, officers as well. We were overcrowded, one did not even have a corner to oneself to sit. There was no food - a real tragedy. They unloaded us in L'hospitalet. We have spent only one night there, the next day we went again further south, towards the Mediterranean. The same story again - crowded like pigs for slaughter, hungry. Nevertheless, we had plenty of humour, for what can break us? No surprises for us. They unloaded us in Sens Interdits*.
* Sens Inderdits - is a Festival in Lyon. (Author's note: I suspect my father confused an advertisement for the festival with a place name)
Many people got lost, many were left behind - those, who during the breaks in the journey went to look for food. Some weaker persons broke down and started to create havoc on purpose - on the other hand all was very hopeless. In the port we loaded successfully in 4 hours. Here's something typical of us Poles - our poor Polish women who were here in France, started to flee with us. We dressed them up in uniforms and smuggled them through the inspections, because it was not allowed to take women. I admired their spirit and decisive bravery. We sailed out to sea, with several battleships behind us. I felt somehow safe, I realised the danger, but nevertheless felt quite secure. God permitted that we have quietly reached the English Island at the port of Liverpool. On the ship we all felt very well, there was humour, music, singing and comic monologues. We were escaping - as the boys were saying - from the sledge-hammer. We could have finished badly long ago - who knows what happened to those left but somehow new hope opened out before us, new plans, and we could again add our efforts to the common endeavour.
Pity I was not able to note all this down at the time, it would be worth a lot more.
21.30 Hour. I listened to the Radio News. Ah! what pleasant news - bombs are whistling over Germany, bringing destruction. Only this will be the right medicine. What an inward satisfaction one feels - such news are like dinner at "Kwiatek"* for the hungry. People are saying that hunger awaits Europe and that the Germans will beg America. I feel the hand of God in all this, their deeds could not be left unpunished. But what will happen to our people? How they will manage? In the summer they will manage, but in the winter? I console myself with the thought that ours is an agricultural land, perhaps we will survive. Worst off will be big cities. Forgive us, our dear ones, but this is the only way to strangle the enemy - hold out with God's help. Pray, the Lord God will not permit...
Monday, 8 July
We have returned from work, we have been transporting building material from one site to another.
It's not possible to sit without work, but it is not work for a soldier-airman. People are showing their displeasure not because they have to work, but because of the injustice of it. Old soldiers, sergeants.. work, while very young officers do not. Colonel, during his pep-talk today said that idleness corrupts soldiers - it's true, but does it not corrupts officers too? Those people are really spoiled, comfortable life spoiled them,
* "Flower" - probably a name of the restaurant.
they can't imagine life without money, without fun, to think only about those comforts. The colonel was most upset today because the private soldiers do not want to serve the officers. "Shame" - he shouted and became speechless from anger. There were times - he said - when the officers were giving everything to these privates. That's ridiculous: how much the officers were paid (and for what?) and how much the privates? Does the colonel realise this. The officer showed great favour when he gave a packet of cigarettes to the soldier. Yes, this is how it is - the officers are human, and the rest only half-human - apparently some officer said that officially. Where can be here any understanding, any clear common endeavour? What is now an officer if not the same orphan like every Polish homeless exile. Yes, gentlemen, you are mistaken, you still do not see, but the "half-humans" see. They see and understand more, they hear Poland's voice 'clearer and understand better what she demands from her sons.
They paid us for 7 days - daily, it comes to 6 pence, for 7 days 3 and a half shillings. All privates get the same, regardless of the ranks, the officers have their pay, also regardless of the ranks. It will be like that until the time of verification, so it is only on account of the proper pay. At least there will be enough for smoke - a packet of 20 cigarettes costs 1 shilling.
I am in a new place - barrack nr. 40. They sorted us out according to specialisation.
GLOUCESTER - 10 July
I had an opportunity to hear a tale of one of our pilots who was on the front and took part in the fighting. The French - he said - did not offer the smallest resistance. The Germans simply marched like on a parade, not meeting with any resistance. Nowhere did we meet with air-superiority in the air-battles - the English fighters are tigers in comparison with the Messerschmidts. What pleasant words, they give surer hope. He said also that if the French gave any resistance, the Germans would have been beaten. Ah! that was unforgivable. How such a nation can still want to intervene against England, what do they think, where are their aims, their ideals. They fell into decline, such a beautiful nation with such traditions broke down morally, became so worthless... I am ready to use the worse epithets to describe them. God's punishment, maybe God wants to open their eyes; if they will not open them, they will disappear from the earth.
Friday, 12 July
6.50 in the morning. Cold. For a few days already it is cold and grey with constant rain. If this is English weather - it's not funny. We get up at 6 - is it not too early? In general our commanders play at soldiers with exaggeration. Ha! this is their speciality. People are fidgeting, the old soldiers, they do not need all this.
Unusual Sunday today. The sun is shining from the very morning, it is nice, pleasant, blissful day. I have an impression that nature wants to dispose people towards peace. It seems that the world speaks... look, man, how beautiful I am, how pleasant would be life in peace, take heed, man, why are you spoiling your life?
Strange day today, awfully ungenerous. Everything goes not the way we want. Everybody is nervous, blasphemes and swears from the very morning. It's not surprising that on rising I fell from bed, which does not happen normally. What is it, who is to blame? New authorities - there is no understanding, no care for one's dependants, only putting one's own person on life's arena. Not only do they think that only they have a right to live, but that they are the essence of Polishness. How can we agree with that? The division of work - we old soldiers, with distinguished service (omitting myself perhaps), are made to transport old scrap iron, while the squadron of young cadet officers is told to "march out". Although here the cadet officers have no privileges, they are just privates - no, our own authorities have the internal power and favour "lords", their successors. Dammit! Is it Polish nature to oppress one another, to ride on the backs of others. Such a youngster, who is to lead one day, should harden himself; let him know the real life. I ask why it is not as it should be? How difficult it is for a loyal man with humane instincts to understand this.
Yesterday I experienced extremely pleasant moments - how few there are pleasant moments in life, they are worth their weight in gold. Yesterday, from 20 to 22 the English organised a concert for the Allied Forces, for us, the Czechs and the Belgians, who are in this camp.
The programme was very pleasant - music, singing, dance and chinese magic. Music, fairy tale atmosphere. Beautiful dancing music transported us to our own dance-halls. It used to be like that. It was like a sweet dream
and unrestrained pain at the same time. Happiest memories glided past. Music like a screen, like mirror - I could see everything, feel it. Happy mood and sad at the same time. I felt like a young girl in love when her lover is far away - happy because she is in love, unhappy because he is away - she longs for him and yearns, this is the essence of her life.
15.00 Hour. And yet it is grey and sad, everything passes without a trace. Even yesterday's music passed without a trace. Passed like a dream. And so a young man becomes like a stone.
Wednesday, 17 July
Cannot ambition be indignant, is it possible to control my indignation. Every day I attended parades, went to work, I thought it was my duty. Majority of men did not attend, did not work, they could not care less... Today I did not go to afternoon's work, I washed my underwear, anyhow I did not expect any work in the afternoon. Not long ago there was another parade. I came. The commander read the names of those who worked in the afternoon, the rest, standing dutifully, was sent for penal drill exercises. What a pedagogical method (I am not surprised). I feel slighted, even hurt. Why? What right has the commander who does not know his people to make such a decision. I reported myself, he did not believe me until the chief spoke for me. Who am I in the eyes of such a lieutenant? What methods he thinks appropriate in dealing with me? Fool, an officer and he does not even know how to evaluate his men. I don't know how to settle it. Until I have cooled down I thought I must have a satisfaction. Am I less worthy than he is, that I have to do " 2 times turn right" for punishment.
Polish Camp Nr.7, 18 July
Boredom! Most of the time I am nervously excited. I have a flaming novel "Accidental Marriage" by Steba(?) - I am reading it and reading, but is that a proper job, this novel meant for a young girl to excite her interest in love. Tomorrow is to be a concert again, we will have music, dear music, I am already living in expectation of tomorrow's evening.
I feel a sort of apathy and laziness. Monotony, grey monotony, how uninteresting is this life. What for? For what reason? I have no wish even to learn English, although I know that without it life's not possible.
Yesterday and the day before that the Polish-English variety shows were organised. I admired the talent of the English, such an entertainment
could be shown on any stage. The soldiers were amateurs, but how much hard work was behind their performance, how much vigour, movement, intelligence. Our boys were also not bad, but in comparison to the English - almost nothing. They were lacking in all the things I mentioned. The difference in intellectual standard was obvious and in the methods of education.
Today I did not go to the religious service. Did I lose the desire even for this? God forbid. I was appointed a delegate for the Belgians' Feast Day - that is why I remained. I went to see the captain and he told me that the cadet officers are to go.
Gloucester, 23 July
Cold, still cold, what a summer, it's cold sleeping under three blankets. Quiet, quiet before the storm. Hitler made a speech, he tried to propose peace. The English reject it. What now? Attack, a terrible attack on the Island. If only the English could endure the first assault, it would be the end of the Germans. If only! but this test would be very hard.
The night is coming. In the camp the hymn is sung: "All our daily affairs"*. - "Keep us in your care".
Good news. The English now trust us to the extend of allowing us to organise an independent Polish army. How well it is, we are a power again, we mean something, we show that we are not beaten and we gave proof of endurance. Twice already the world thought that we are beaten, but it turned out to be untrue, we are still strong, still ready to fight, surprising the whole world with our will and our determination. No, Poland will not perish, Poland appears as most powerful, with the greatest rights to exist.
Thursday, 25 July
After a long melancholic time, the beautiful sun came out - how much more pleasant it is when the sun is shining. Yesterday Polish bishop J.Gawlina visited us and gave us his blessing. Strange coincidence - yesterday they paid us the assistance money, I got 8 shillings - it looks as if the bishop brought with him God's grace. In spite of everything our standard of living is becoming bearable, life is better organised, the kitchen doesn't fail us.
Apparently there is to be organised a Polish bomber wing (?) ......
I don't know, Peter said so. Apparently they need volunteers, so naturally I applied, Peter put my name, but I don't know if anything will come of it. How I would like to do something, do anything. Either life or grave.
* Very well known hymn - often sung as part of evening preyers.
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